French retreat on fuel tax increase worries delegates to climate change conference
At climate change talks in Katowice, Poland, there is a lot of worried talk about the revolt by the French people over President Emmanuel Macron's fuel tax increase. The tax increase was a large part of Macron's effort to combat global warming, and the elites in Poland are concerned that voters in other E.U. countries will think protesting their government's trying to save the planet on their backs isn't such a good idea.
"The way forward is not easy, is not straightforward," European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said at the talks in Katowice. "In the end it will be the people's decision how much they're ready to change the way they behave, how they live."
France's troubles were seized upon by climate skeptics to underline the unpopularity of costly decarbonization efforts.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: "The Paris Agreement is fatally flawed because it raises the price of energy for responsible countries while whitewashing some of the worst polluters ... in the world. I want clean air and clean water and have been making great strides in improving America's environment. But American taxpayers – and American workers – shouldn't pay to clean up others countries' pollution."
Macron suspended the fuel tax hike for six months as his government looks for alternatives. In truth, it won't find any. Radically altering people's behavior is a social experiment, not an economic policy. The French people are balking because the government doesn't appear to care how much disruption there will be in the lives of ordinary people. Whether French voters believe in man-made climate change is not the issue. This is an issue that hits at the wallets of the French lower and middle classes and, along with the rising cost of living, is squeezing the average Frenchman, lowering their standard of living.
"If France is putting a brake on the carbon tax, it puts a brake on energy transition and sends a very bad signal to economies that rely on coal, on fossil fuels, and shows that every nation is just slowing down," said Pierre Cannet, head of climate and energy policy at WWF France.
Recall that President Obama was downright excited about raising the electric bill for every American. He succeeded. But when the French people see that there are cheaper alternatives to staying warm, they ask why their government wants to impoverish them.
Germany, which still uses coal to generate 40% of its electrical power, is another example of where saving the world from climate change is just too darn expensive:
Environment Minister Svenja Schulze's call for a carbon tax earlier this year was quickly shot down by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc in the German parliament over concerns it would boost living costs.
But Schulze, of the Social Democratic Party, argued that climate policies don't have to lead to political "hara kiri" if they are well designed. "We cannot put the greatest burden on those who've already got little," Schulze said on Monday in Katowice.
That's the real story of the revolt against the fuel tax. The burden of saving the Earth will fall most heavily on those least able to pay for it. European elites, congratulating themselves on their "courage" in foisting these burdensome carbon taxes on their people, just don't get it.
People get angry when asked to do with less for a goal that rich people are saying is for the best for everyone.